Just outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania, on the east side of Route 15, you can visit an amazing place: Clyde Peelings Reptileland. When we lived on the East Coast, and my kids were younger, we visited there several times and always had a blast.
And learned cool facts. I learned, for example, that alligators continue to actually grow muscle mass while they “brummate” (think hibernate only less extreme). In other words, while alligators are in a torpor, eyes glazed over as they scan the latest offerings on Netflix while finishing off a bag of stale Doritos, they are actually getting the benefit of a workout! Or so I was assured by our knowledgeable docent.
Wouldn’t that be amazing? If medical research could figure out how to put that in a bottle someone would quickly move to the top of the Forbes’ billionaires list! But alas, such a drug is not yet available. Maybe one day…
This odd, if true, ability of the alligator was brought to mind recently when reading a very old book on ministry. Some time ago while visiting a used bookstore I picked up a copy of The Christian Ministry: Miscellanies for Candidates, written by Rev. James William Kimball and first published in Boston in 1884. The book reads like a blog from yesteryear – or century as the case may be. It contains valuable insights into the essentials of Christian ministry – essentials which, by the way, have not changed over the millennia. And one of those essentials concerns the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ: evangelism.
In talking about the need for Christians, and particularly those in some form of ministry, to do the work of evangelism, Kimball presents the case of those who beg off from this critical aspect of the church’s work by saying, “Oh, I haven’t the gift. It’s a rare gift and I never possessed it.” Kimball’s response: “Did you ever acquire any language without grappling with the alphabet, monosyllables, disyllables, and polysyllables? Have you ever strengthened any of your muscles by total disuse?”
And that is what brought Clyde Peeling’s Reptileland to mind. We are not alligators. You are not an alligator. You and I will never see the least bit of progress in any spiritual discipline or grace if we are not practicing – exercising – the associated gifts or callings, however slight or discernible they may be. Those muscles must work to grow.
Today we live in an information age and we have a strong bias towards assuming that the right information will enable us to do and be better at whatever we think we ought or might be doing. We should remember that there were other such “ages” prior to our own. And somehow, in at least some respects, previous generations and centuries surpassed our current level of achievement. To doubt this fact is to fall into the very worst sort of chronological arrogance that trivializes all of history – especially church history!
What can we learn from the past about how to get our alligator selves off of our couches and fulfill the scriptural command to “do the work of evangelism?” (2 Timothy 4:5).
Kimball offers this advice:
“My friend, are you doing what you can? Do not say, ‘I am not a clergyman; this is the peculiar province of a clergyman.’ If you are a disciple; if you have heard of Jesus and believed on Him, you have been adopted into his family. You have become His servant; you are made a minister; you are commissioned by our Lord himself to talk of Him. A disciple is a learner: and our Lord’s school is the great original of the ‘mutual system;’ as a learner you are required to be also a teacher; the unalterable condition and requirement of His school is, teach what you learn as fast as you learn it, and you shall be advanced daily and hourly.”
Simply do what you can! While new information and good training are wonderful, you do not need either to simply share what you already know as best as you are able. And you would be surprised how much God can do with folks who know very, very little but are willing to share what they do know. The Samaritan woman at the well scarcely had a single qualification to her name, but she had met Jesus and through her simple words an entire village heard the truth and many put their faith in Christ (John 4:39).
It is not new information or better training that we need today. We simply need fresh resolve to each of us do what we can by sharing what we know. And, by daily and hourly exercise, we will soon be far stronger than mere alligators!
 James William Kimball, The Christian Ministry: Miscellanies for Candidates (Boston, 1884), p. 77.